The atlas has shrugged. Kakha Bendukidze, committed libertarian, prominent industrialist and Georgia’s great reformer, has passed away at the age of 58.
Kakha was at the forefront of promoting transition from communism to capitalism, in Georgia and in the region. His contribution to Georgia’s reforms was of an immense, irreplaceable value. His personal example can serve as the beacon for reformers.
Working in Georgia’s government in 2004-2009 as minister of economy, minister for reform coordination and head of the government chancellery, Kakha conceptualized and implemented a very long list of sometimes painful but important reforms.
Smart, sharp and overbearing, he was ready to lead. His understanding of concepts of liberalism and libertarianism were profound. He knew better than anyone else how to harness and apply them in practice.
In 2004-2007, Kakha oversaw Georgia’s large-scale privatization, when almost all state assets went private. His most memorable quote from those times is “we are planning to sell everything apart from our morals…”
Before accepting job in Georgia’s government in 2004, he created and managed Russia’s biggest heavy engineering group. Private sector experience allowed him to think of whatever he was doing in Georgia’s government from both public and private angles.
Kakha was avid reader. Anyone visiting his office or his home would see piles of books on a variety of issues in politics, development and economics. He would burn midnight oil reading them.
Kakha was the game changer in the times of crisis, managing urgency and working under pressure. He believed that reforms in Georgia could only be done by Georgians, through decisive action and exercise of a strong political will. His rejection of theoretical long-term economic transformation strategy drafts was both visceral and cerebral. Rather, he was aiming at ‘here and now’.
Professional conversation with Kakha was inevitably a hardtalk where he would succumb only if outmaneuvered by logic and arguments. He would pull no punches to test you. Despite his phenomenal ability to listen, he hated monologues. He preferred debate.
Kakha would never compromise on sound judgment, and he would never betray his principles.
My first encounter with Kakha was in 2005, when I started as Georgia’s deputy finance minister. At that time, his versatile, questioning mind was spearheading many reforms: liberalization of the tax, customs and labor legislation, reduction in number of public entities and controlling agencies, numerous sectoral transformations.
The last time I saw Kakha was in Kyiv in 2014, where he was advising Ukraine’s new leadership, as the private citizen. He was Ukraine’s big, genuine friend.
In his last years, Kakha dedicated himself to promotion of education. He thoroughly overhauled several Georgian universities, investing tens of millions of his money. I remember those universities before and after Kakha stepped in. What a sea of change..
Kakha Bendukidze will keep inspiring. The appreciation of his accomplishments will only grow stronger with time.
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